I'm Tony Stark. I build neat stuff. I got a great girl. And occasionally save the world. So why can't I sleep? - Anthony Edward Stark, Iron Man 3
The summer movie season is underway and if we're lucky, the slate of blockbusters from the likes of J.J. Abrams, Zach Snyder and Neill Blomkamp won't disappoint. Aside from the wide-lens wide-eyed plot heavy pop candy we'll most definitely see, we might also see a glimpse into our future. While past films such as RoboCop, Terminator, Blade Runner, Minority Report and the Star franchises (both Wars and Trek) provided some hint or harbinger of things to come, a more intimate interconnection between man and machine, one might argue that Iron Man has shown the closest future of the pack. Not so much in the flying suit capacity, but if you attended CES or SxSW in recent months, there is something to be said for the appeal of an augmented wardrobe.
The iWatch, Google Glass, Leap Motion and other entries into either zero interface or wearable computing have us captivated, awestruck and even downright tech-rabid. But perhaps the best word to describe that visceral feeling we have when we see these inventions is nostalgic. We've always been fascinated with the blending effects of bridging man and machine. Some of the best stories and prognostications on human evolution gush over the potential of this symbiosis. But to capture the reality of what's in store for us, it may be best to look back and identify some patterns. Up first: Wall Street.
Not only did the iconic district deliver the indelible image of the “Gekko phone”, but also it was the first bastion of the Bluetooth-wearing douchebag. First heralded as the answer to hands free wireless telephony, these standalone headsets have become as much a point of judgment as an entry into judicious mobility. At the most recent SxSW, many of us witnessed the first public sightings of Project Glass. Whether this spectacle is truly as spectacular as many believe it might be, there was another undercurrent on the streets of Austin: until Glass is more commodity than oddity, the additional vision it brings the bearer may divide audiences. New technology is often divisive. Jealousy or curiosity, ostentation or adoption, every conspicuous form of technology undergoes some measure of appeal and apprehension. Regardless of what occurs here, it's nice to see Google realize the providence of another great tech visionary.
There was a synth heavy rock band out of Denton, Texas called Ghosthustler that emerged around the same time as that IBM commercial. One of their more popular records, Parking Lot Nights, payed homage to one of the first commercially available gesture based peripherals, Nintendo's Power Glove. The concept was simple: control software with your body. Nearly two decades later, Nintendo took things a step further by introducing the Wii wireless remote. Xbox and Playstation flavors arrived a few years later but we'll have to wait until next month to experience what may be the first latency-free version in Leap Motion's highly anticipated Controller. It's one thing to understand gross motor movements; it's something entirely groundbreaking to add nuanced fine motor learning to the picture. Groups ranging far from hardcore gamers, including medical equipment manufacturers and the Department of Defense, have taken notice. And to think that Matthew Broderick's War Games once presented Tic Tac Toe as advanced computing for our Armed Forces.
But any talk of electronics, certainly consumer electronics, typically starts and ends (appropriately or not) with Apple. In this vein, the iWatch rumors continue, and whether you believe some who say it will be nothing more than a slap bracelet with a retina display (which is compelling enough as long as it's safe), it would be foolhardy to think that Cupertino's attention to this space would result in a common timepiece or simple iteration of what's come before it. Though, while the original iPhone was revolutionary, it shared a number of traits with the first batch of Palm Pilots, with their snap-to-grid UI and original mobile app store experience. This is not to say that the combination of phone, Web and music wasn't a killer marriage. What could be more impressive, though, is a potential iWatch's melding of phone/Web/music with Siri, gesture control and Apple TV.
Imagine a perfectly contained techosystem, intuitive motion navigated content surfing, secret handshake-like parental controls, voice recognized preferences, no remotes to lose, and buttonless connectivity to your entire digital profile.
That's not just thinking different - it's super.
Doug Grinspan is Say Media's Mobile Publisher.